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...a sweatshop of moxie

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Loss Of Influence: The Black American In US Politics

It's almost understood that as a white person, you cannot opine on almost anything black, without your statements hovering around the "racist" word.

In fact, when Yeaghhhhhh!-meister, and then Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, tried to do it during the 2004 campaign and later, during the televised debates, he was promptly ridiculed to silence by fellow hopeful, Reverend Al Sharpton.

Dr. Dean also got a shellacking in the mainstream press, in a kind of walking on eggshells reaction which many white people self-regulate when the topic is broached openly by a white person, although many black analysts in the more marginalised press, were not so outraged.

Said the Black Commentator in 2003, about his December 7 speech,

"Howard Dean has taken history in his hands by hitching his ascendant campaign to a straightforward, anti-corporate message that does not pander to white racism. He presents whites in the South and elsewhere with the only principled choice they should be offered: to vote their interests, or vote for their bosses’ interests (if they are lucky enough to have a job). Although corporate media called Dean’s statement his “southern strategy,” it is in fact the only position that holds out any hope for a national Democratic victory in 2004 – whether enough southern whites emerge from their racist “false consciousness” or not."

And yet, the topic of race relations today, in the United States, is almost always defined by the target minority -- just as whether a sexual advance is either rape or a welcome approach, is always defined by women.

Since the heydey of the Civil Rights movement, when black Americans had angels on their side, there has been a progressive erosion of black influence in politics in this country.

Instead of the burgeoning ranks of politicians and ever-increasing successors to the message left behind by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there have been instead just pockets of political power, occuring usually in cities where black Americans have a traditionally vocal and physical presence in the structure of the city:

Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles being just some such examples.

Although New York City is a liberal city par excellence, it is noteworthy that only one black Mayor, David Dinkins, has made it to Gracie Mansion to date.


Likewise, the promise of future Dr. Kings, that is, articulate, commanding and principled men of action, tempered with civility, is today a trickle.

Anyone from the Reverends Jesse Jackson, the above-mentioned Al Sharpton, to Julian Bond, and Kwame Mfume, have diluted the moral thrust of their message by anything from race-baiting tactics, to making comments which can only be described as highly racist, in tone.

This is without mentioning the everyday lunacy exhibited by Louis Farrakhan, whose ascendancy in the black community allowed much of his conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism to prevail unchallenged, when it should have automatically disqualified him from ANY kind of moral or civic leadership.

Much beyond these names, can be listed either fringe but memorable "heroes" like Malcolm X or any number of Black Panthers, and other activists whose hate-filled diatribes were received without much censure by otherwise peaceful members of society -- lost in their own guilt, and remorse of years of abuse towards blacks.

Although I personally deride white Americans' insistence on "spokesmen" from each representative community, which is often seen when opinions are sought by media, or in town hall meetings, almost as if we needed to have an official funnel of information from each group, it is also true that given American history, these men above, do posit themselves as black leaders, and should be judged as such.

They are given their status in the national discourse because of this very legitimacy in their community, so it is particularly galling when their behaviour doesn't correspond to this public trust.

Many black politicians have also failed to rally support to themselves, from other sectors of the American melting pot, not all of them white either.

For every Senator Barack Obama, there have been States in the Union who have never had a black politician elected to higher office, at all.

How galling must it be, then, for certain people to imagine that the most viably popular candidates for higher office, are often cited as Colin Powell then, and Condoleeza Rice, now.

Both black, yes. But both Republicans.

It may well be that if there is an US President who is black, one day, it could possibly be of the political party which many black Americans are antipathic to.

Furthermore, it is often disappointing to many black people that not all "people of colour" see themselves as their natural allies, and thus could form a solid bloc of support which could allow these joint groups, to gain political power in this country.

Historically, few immigrant groups have been the black Americans' greatest supporters than Jewish Americans, but as mentioned, often the anti-Semitic racism thrown around by certain leaders, have tempered the support by bewilderment, and disappointment.

Compounded to this, has been the fact that many black people see Jewish Americans as part of the white sphere, and though a minority, they are judged to be a minority of wealth, influence, and power.


Perhaps, the most natural ally in political or societal terms would be Hispanic-Americans. Then, again, the situation is hardly anything but complex. Hispanic-Americans are hardly an unified, let alone homogeneous group -- present images of immigration protest, notwithstanding.

There are three very intricate reasons why Hispanics and blacks in the US are often more separated than united:

1- Language and cultural differences.

White Americans often complain of the gradual incursion of the Spanish language, through television and the emphasis of learning a second language in school, into the larger US culture.

Black Americans, however, often feel themselves even more sea at this linguistic incursion since data shows that they are less likely to learn a foreign language, than whites.

2- "Hispanics" are many.

The umbrella term Hispanics or Latinos masks the bald fact that Hispanic Americans often share little other than a common tongue -- Spanish.

Although the majority of Hispanics in the US are people of Mexican origin, Hispanics also include Caribbean peoples such as the often biracial Puerto Ricans, white Cubans, and indigenous or mixed South Americans.

It is common in the US to lump these groups together as a "race", but neither are they a race, nor do they share common political goals.

It is well-known that Cuban-Americans tend towards the Republican Party because of this Party's hardline tactics against Communism, but many of the more traditional mores of conservative politics can appeal to Hispanics, whose overwhelming cultural Catholicism hardly makes them goose-step politically to the Democratic Party.

It may well be the most open-secret in politics today, that the Republican Party has banked heavily on these Hispanic groups to at least quaver on occasion towards the Right.

3- Whites are not the only ones who can be racist.

Many Hispanics do, unfortunately, have views towards blacks which may edge or completely fall into the racist precipice.

How ever much they can be of dusky or olive skin, the mere fact that they are not black makes many Hispanics believe they are racially superior to blacks.

This is hardly the stuff of alliances, even expedient ones.


Finally, there is one overriding reason why many Hispanics and blacks are often at loggerheads with each other.

It is a truism that immigrants, especially illegals or the very recently arrived, work at jobs the older immigrant groups no longer wish to do.

Since Black Americans were inevitably the ones who used to hold down these jobs, much resentment and competition arose when people felt that those jobs were now going to others -- workers whose unnaturally low wages makes it difficult to compete with them.

Whatever the social tensions, it is in one fact that leaps out today, more than any other.

Black Americans have been surpassed by Hispanic Americans as the largest minority group in the United States.

No longer, then, do politicians have to court black votes as tenaciously as they used to, pre-2000s.

And this stark decline in numbers, does translate into a stark decline in influence, and perhaps even in material relevance, to the greater political life in the US -- although to be sure, the picture is not always as bleak as the polling numbers game make them seem.

Even then, even after all these points have been digested and pondered over by all groups concerned, there is yet another reason why black Americans have a progressive loss of influence in the Amerian political scene.


Quite simply, the battles of today are not theirs.

The topic of race will always be part of the American cultural fabric, just as class is in Britain, or religion is in Ireland.

But since the great Civil Rights era, when rights were at long last accorded, and then, a system of trying to correct past imbalances were put into place for black Americans, known as Affirmative Action, there has not been an issue which other groups in the US have been able to rally around, in favour of black Americans.

If you think of the major issues facing the US today, at no point, can they be skewed as having a primary or even secondary black emphasis.

(A) The War on Terror

(B) Immigration Reform

(C) Gay Rights

(D) Abortion Question

(E) Social Security Reform

(F) Health Care

Altough it is certain that black Americans all qualify as being affected directly by these topics, they are not black-centric IN THEIR ENTIRETY, as the Civil Rights Era was about (despite other groups of colour or sex having benefited from the laws passed at that time, it goes without saying).


Without a rallying flag, without a single-issue cause which can garner supporters from the majority white community especially (and there are no end of white Americans which would readily champion a cause central to black Americans), black Americans have to bring up the increasingly hazy, miasmic topic of 'racism', in their revindications.

But the problem with racism is that the topic has been corrupted, ever since the Civil Rights Era.

Where before the usage of derogatory words was common, no longer is the "n-word" ever EVER possible to be used in public by anyone who is, ironically, not black.

Whereas before there was school and societal segregation of the most demeaning and impossibly uncivilised kinds, such as separate water fountains, back-of-the-busness, and lunch counters which didn't allow blacks, now black Americans talk of taxis which do not stop.

...of sideways glances which can be just as injurious to self-respect, as thoughtless words -- but which nevertheless, can never compare in meaning.

...of "code words" used by whites, or political parties, which stand for racism but can not be pinned down as such, except by explanation.

In short, what was once in-your-face racism, has become the pin prickly, no doubt hurtful, daily but ultimately "just" grievances and slights of a more devious nature.

Nothing is out in the open anymore.

It can't be.

It's progress, in the starkest, most confusing sense.

The irony is that the Civil Rights Era taught people to be "smart" about racism, even people who are not racist, albeit sometimes can inadvertently act in race-conscious ways.

What we have today, then, can even be used against black people to show them up as throwing the race-card into a given topic.

The sad thing about this situation is that though this mindset can be abused by whites (that is, claiming that a race-card has been used, where no racism exists, although it very much can exist), it is indeed, also abused by black Americans, who have seen how society runs a mile when race in the US is mentioned -- and usually in their favour.

This attitude alienates non-blacks enormously, and that's the truth.

You can regulate how jobs seek applicants, how people address each other, where children are taught, but there is no way to regulate interpersonal relations, by government dictate.

It is this which was seen most recently in the Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney case, who allegedly slapped a Congress police officer, when he asked to see identification after not spying the Congresssional pin on her person.

At first, she was sheepish about the incident, but then, she seemed to reconsider after black leaders injected themselves into the matter, and claimed this was racism through "racial-profiling".

Racial profiling is a fact.

It happens on many levels; not just official ones.

It happens whenever a person is seated inside a car, with their windows rolled down, and they roll them up at the approach of a black person.

Although no racist words are exchanged, undoubtedly these types of incidents are racist in tone, and they hurt all concerned -- but especially the targets of such demeaning incidents.

But to the greater American public, what Congresswoman McKinney did was to use her race, or to allow others to use it for their purposes, to excuse or justify an action on her part which was inexcusable.

Again I say, this is where the natural support, sympathy or even tolerance of people breaks down.

It magnifies petty encounters between all people, who then use it in their minds to generalise about people they have dealt with, or know.

Of course, one incident can never stand for a whole social condition, nor explain it.

I only mention it here to emphasise anew my point, that "soft racism" like racial profiling and the lack of adequate taxi driver respect is just not enough a rallying flag towards black Americans.

And without a cause like the Civil Rights movement, the culmination of which was over 100 years in the making, this lack of cohesive argument in their favour, does not translate into a broader political base.

Never would anyone argue that it might even have been better that the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 and subsequent bills of enfranchisement, in the latter-part of the 60's, had not been passed -- just so that they could still have that potent political and societal cause on their side.

But the topics which most grip Americans by the throat today, simply are not about blacks only.

Without that emphasis, black Americans become just one more group, important in many ways, but not numerically-speaking which to be counted on, even amongst themselves, for votes.


As a very last point, I'd like to mention something about the area I live in:

English-speaking, Black Miamians are possibly one of the most politically voiceless people in a large metropolis, in the United States.

Due to the recent founding and population of this area, no one group of people was able to dominate it until the Cuban-Americans arrived.

Despite a vicious fight between "Anglo" transplants, Southern whites, and newly-arrived Cubans, this tension didn't result in a positive situation for black Miamians.

In fact, their political power in this city has practically eroded to nothing on all levels, save that of local governmental bureaucracy.

Black Miamians, despite some riots in the early and late 1980s, tend also not to have a very politically astute leadership with only one man, Bishop Victor Curry, having anything approaching the Al Sharpton-like authority, the latter does in New York City.

Try as Bishop Curry might, on the airwaves and in certain neighbourhoods, I don't think many people outside of his community even know he exists -- and his resentful anti-Cuban attitudes certainly do him no favours in this town.

Congressman Kendrick Meek, son of political trailblazer Carrie Meek, is one of the few black American politicians of note, and even so, he enjoys not much more than nominal support from either white Americans or Cuban-Americans here.

Corruption scandals dogged the late commissioner, Art Teele, who shockingly committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald, after having been the target of a corruption piece by a journalist there.

I always thought if some black Miamian had a chance to be Mayor, it would be he, but on speaking to others since this unbelievable event, I was told I was very much wrong.

He was not liked, by and large.

There literally, to the best of my knowledge, is no black Miamian who could even be thought to be on the short-list to be Mayor one day, and forget sooner than later.

One might ask, why is this position so important, but if Tip O'Neill was right (at least about this), if indeed "all politics is local", there can be no greater political feather in one's cap, than to lead your city as Mayor.

However, the mayor's office is a Cuban-American post in a lock, and has been for almost two decades now, in the same way that Irish-Americans seized control of the position for the longest time in Boston.


So, here goes another prediction:

I predict that if Miami were ever to have a black Mayor in the near future, say in the next 25 years, it will be an Haitian-American Mayor, first, than an English-speaking black Mayor.

Haitian-Americans show the same solidarity, and civic duty in voting, than have had Cuban-Americans in 40 years, and for this reason, I believe they can achieve political goals previously dreamt only by black Miamians.

Alas, it is not even certain that many black Miamians would vote for a Haitian-American for Mayor, since the two groups often coexist with animus, on both sides.

Possibly few things could better describe the loss of political influence by Black Americans, than this situation here in Miami, between two groups who nominally have the same skin tone.

But not the same viewpoint, attitudes, and certainly not causes.

Haitian-Americans struggle every day against racism and derogatory remarks, always shaded towards a vision of being thought of as slightly countrybumpkin and inferior, being from a country in constant turmoil, but the sadness here is that the abuse is often from black Americans.

As ever, in America, and therefore Miami, I think one charismatic, or principled, or possibly controversial figure can arise to unite various groups, to gain political power.

But for all these reasons above, the loss of influence felt in the black communities, is one which has no quick fix.

It took a while for black Americans to get a piece of the pie.

Let's hope the recipe can be remembered, before it's too late.


  • Blacks need to assimilate before it's too late. Their leaders choose to keep them, by and large, separate as a tool. Their thinking will one day be proved flawed.

    What's with this?:

    towards the dexter side of the political aisle.

    Dexter??? Republicans in bow ties?

    By Blogger Paul, at Tue Apr 11, 09:13:00 am GMT-4  

  • Excellent post Victoria! Needless to say, you write about some very complex issues. No doubt that on a national level the Democrats have taken the Black vote for granted. The so called Black leaders have often turned out to be frauds and have not helped their own community. They have relied for too long on an entitlement, victim mentality rather than stressing education and hard work to get ahead. This continues to this day with talk of reparations, etc. My own experience with Black employees has been best when they have been from the Caribbean islands, not from the USA.

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Tue Apr 11, 11:01:00 am GMT-4  

  • More and more, the idea of a separate 'black' existence is being bred into extinction.

    Simply put, more folks can claim multiple ethnicities when checking the 'race/ethnicity' check boxes on forms than ever before.

    That's a horror to the champions of identity politics, who have greater influence in the black community than they do elsewhere at the moment.

    After selling the idea of 'racial' solidarity above all else, many Democrats are finding themselves faced with the problem of having to demonize black Republican candidates (Gov. Steele in Maryland, soon to be Gov. Swann in Pennsylvania, Sec. Rice, Justice Thomas, etc).

    But in fifty years there won't be such a thing as a 'black' family that doesn't have roots with Latinos, Whites or Asians also, so the whole calculus of identity politics will have to shift, and its the matches that people make in their private lives that will cause this and not the sudden enlightenment of race baiting politicians.

    By Blogger XWL, at Tue Apr 11, 05:36:00 pm GMT-4  

  • this is a wonderful post, it is so well written

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 12, 01:01:00 am GMT-4  

  • As long as blacks support race-pimps and class-warlords such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, they will neve gain in political power. The silence is deafening from the black populace when it turns out that Jesse extorts money and jobs for his children. The lack of caring is stunning when Al Sharpton incites a deadly riot.

    As long as those are the kind of criminals the black populace supports, they won't get much of a nod from me.

    By Blogger benning, at Thu Apr 13, 03:12:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Wow, excellent post! I don't think I'll be able to read the entire thing in one sitting, there's too much to absorb.

    You're right when you say that a Haitian is more likely to become mayor of Miami before an "African-American". Haitians don't have the stigma of many decades of abuse and slavery. They are hungry to stake their claim, their slate is clean here in Miami and the US in general. This attitude applies to all Caribbean blacks, not just Haitians.

    By Blogger Robert, at Fri Apr 14, 11:37:00 am GMT-4  

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